Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent. It can also be a hot continent.
The country is affected by two very different weather systems.
Northern Australia's weather is monsoonal. This is the weather system that has led to the current major flooding in North Queensland. By contrast, Southern Australia is affected by the interplay between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
New England sits on the dividing line between the two systems and can get rain from both. This makes it the wettest part of NSW.
Climatologists had focused on warming and cooling in the Pacific Ocean as the major cause of droughts in Southern Australia. However, recent research suggests that the Indian Ocean is far more important than previously realised.
The great droughts in Southern Australia - 1895 to 1902, 1939 to 1945 and the present one - have all been associated with adverse Indian Ocean conditions of sufficient strength to overcome favourable Pacific conditions.
During droughts such as this one, the countryside becomes tinder dry. That plus hot weather creates the conditions for major fire events such as that Victoria has just experienced. A fire that began at Kilmore north of Melbourne spread so rapidly that at least 14 people were burned to death. Another 25 are missing.
The following photo from Channel Nine gives an indication of the conditions fire fighters face.
The speed at which major fires can move is almost unbelievable.
The Australian bush is pretty but deadly. Our native gums exude eucalyptus vapour, a smell that Australians know and love. But it also means that gum leaves burn very quickly. As indicated by this banner from the Brisbane Courier Mail, this creates great heat.
Once the fire gets into the tree-tops, the heat created quickly ignites adjoining trees. As they ignite, the growing heat creates its own wind, leading to firestorms.
Now driven by growing wind, the fire leaps from tree-top to tree-top at increasing speed, changing direction as the wind changes. Gusty variable winds can make firefighting an absolute nightmare.
Driven by fire created winds, embers can be carried long distances, creating new spot fires. The fire front grows, speed increases. The current Victorian fires spread so fast that there was no effective time to respond. One minute there is just smoke in the distance, the next minute the fire tops the nearby hill, a minute later the trees are burning around you.
As shown to great effect in this photo from The Age, the fires create huge plumes of smoke. This plus the heat can create local thunderstorm conditions. The resulting lightning can create new fires.
Australia depends on volunteer fire fighters for its front-line bush fire fighting. Each year some die, more have lucky escapes. They continue because of the camaraderie involved.
Australia faces a problem here. We are losing people from many country areas, while those who remain are getting older. Our fire fighters, too, are getting older. There may come a time when there are no longer the people there to provide the volunteer service.
But for the present at least, the volunteer service continues.
Even as I was writing this story, more news was coming through. This is captured in the new Courier Mail banner.
The number of dead is 26 and rising. Many of those who died appear to have died in their cars, probably trying to escape.
Australian bush fire advice is quite clear. If you are prepared and confident, stay with your home since this will give you the best chance of saving it.
If you want to go, go early.
If you cannot do this, stay with you home. A car is no protection. A house provides protection against the fierce heat of the fire front. By the time the house catches, the worst heat should have passed.